The sentiments expressed by a Realtor in Wednesday’s Gazette story about the difficulties with selling homes in Schenectady are nothing new. Prospective home buyers have been raising questions about taxes and crime and — probably most of all — the quality of Schenectady schools for decades. And for the most part, the answers have always been the same.
Schenectady houses tend to be priced substantially lower than their comparably sized suburban counterparts, despite the fact that they possess a degree of character and quality of construction that’s simply not found in newer, suburban homes. The city’s taxes may be higher, but as officials pointed out at their dog-and-pony show for Realtors Tuesday, buyers still get more bang for their housing buck in the city when lower mortgage payments are factored in.
Crime? Schenectady is a city. What city doesn’t have more crime than nearby suburbs? As for where the crime occurs, it doesn’t appear to be pervasive, but concentrated in a few neighborhoods. And those neighborhoods are generally not the middle-class ones Mayor Gary McCarthy had in mind when he launched his Key to the City campaign to attract home buyers. On the other hand, housing bargains can be found in Schenectady at all price points.
As for schools, Schenectady has always had decent ones, but as Superintendent Laurence Spring told the Realtors Tuesday, their problem isn’t with the middle-class students they educate. It’s kids from poor families who don’t come from similarly nurturing environments. In many cases, they come from broken homes, they enter kindergarten having never been read to or properly socialized, and they rely on schools for most, if not all, of their daily nutritional needs.
That they subsequently underperform (skewing the averages on test scores, graduation rates and reading statistics) is partly the school’s fault, but it’s also their home environment. And when the school district consistently gets shortchanged on aid from the state, which is supposed to be at least partly based on a district’s relative wealth, the task is made all the more daunting. If underprivileged students were taken out of the city school district’s mix, its performance numbers would undoubtedly look more like those of a suburban district.
An economically and racially diverse school district isn’t for everyone, nor is an economically or racially diverse place to live. But there are, thankfully, plenty of people who embrace diversity, who realize it reflects the real world, and who want their children exposed to that kind of world from a young age so they’ll be ready when they have to live in it later on. Those are the people for whom a city like Schenectady remains an unbeatable place to buy a house and raise a family, and that’s how Realtors should market it.